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Illicit Distilling And Smuggling
by [?]

From about the close of the seventeenth until well on in the nineteenth century, smuggling was carried on to a large extent in the Border counties of England and Scotland, not only as regards the evasion of customs duties on imported articles, but as well in the form of illicit distillation.

In the good old times, better than half-way through the eighteenth century, cargoes consisting of ankers of French brandy, bales of lace, cases of tobacco, boxes of tea, and what not, were “run” almost nightly on certain parts of the coasts of Berwick, Northumberland, and Galloway, borne inland by long strings of pack-horses, and securely hid away in some snug retreat, perhaps far up among the Border hills. Few of the inhabitants but looked with lenient eye on the doings of the “free-traders”; few, very few, deemed it any crime to take advantage of their opportunities for getting liquor, tea, and tobacco at a cheaper rate than they could buy the same articles after they had paid toll to the King. Smuggled goods, too, were thought to possess quality and flavour better than any belonging to those that had come ashore in legitimate fashion; the smuggler’s touch, perhaps, in this respect was–

“… sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath”;

it imparted to the brandy, apparently, a vague, unnameable something that tickled the palate of the drinker, to the tobacco an extra aroma that was grateful to the nostrils of those who smoked it. Nay, the very term “smuggled” raised the standard of those goods in the estimation of some very honest folk, and caused them to smack their lips in anticipation. Perhaps this superstition as to the supreme quality of things smuggled is not even yet wholly dead. Who has not met the hoary waterside ruffian, who, whispering low,–or at least as low as a throat rendered husky by much gin can whisper,–intimates that he can put the “Captain” (he’d promote you to be “Admiral” on the spot if he thought that thereby he might flatter you into buying) on to the “lay” of some cigars–“smuggled,” he breathes from behind a black and horny paw, whose condition alone would taint the finest Havanna that ever graced the lips of king or duke–the like of which may be found in no tobacconist’s establishment in the United Kingdom. There have been young men, greatly daring, who have been known to traffic with this hoary ruffian, and who have lived to be sadder and wiser men. Of the flavour of those weeds the writer cannot speak, but the reek is as the reek which belches from the Pit of Tophet. However, in the eighteenth century our forefathers, for a variety of reasons, greatly preferred the smuggled goods, and many a squire or wealthy landowner, many a magistrate even, found it by no means to his disadvantage if on occasion he should be a little blind; a still tongue might not unlikely be rewarded by the mysterious arrival of an anker of good French brandy, or by something in the silk, or lace, or tea line for the ladies of his household. People saw no harm in such doings in those good old days; defrauding the revenue was fair game. And if a “gauger” lost his life in some one or other of the bloody encounters that frequently took place between the smugglers and the revenue officers, why, so much the worse for the “gauger.” He was an unnecessarily officious sort of a person, who had better have kept out of the way. In fact, popular sentiment was entirely with the smugglers, who by the bulk of the population were regarded with the greatest admiration. Smuggling, indeed, was so much a recognised trade or profession that there was actually a fixed rate at which smuggled goods were conveyed from place to place; for instance, for tea or tobacco from the Solway to Edinburgh the tariff was fifteen shillings per box or bale. A man, therefore, owning three or four horses could, with luck, make a very tidy profit on the carriage, for each horse would carry two packages, and the distances were not great. There was certainly a good sporting chance of the convoy being captured in transit, but the smugglers were daring, determined men, and the possibility of a brush with the preventive officers merely added zest to the affair.